As we come to the end of a particularly long and hot summer, I wanted to update you on the work being done to tackle anti-social motorbike use.
On Friday, at a long-planned meeting, I met with the chairman of C.A.N.S. (Communities Against Noise and Speed) to discuss next steps in taking action against the noise from motorbikes that so blights the lives of those living near and using the A32 and the A272 in the Meon Valley.
I very much welcome the formation of C.A.N.S. and the forum it provides for the community to voice its opinions on the motorbike issue and scrutinise what the relevant authorities are doing.
We were joined by a representative from the office of my colleague Damian Hinds, MP for East Hampshire; Rob Humby, Executive member for the Environment and Transport (the department that controls roads in Hampshire), and also one of your local councillors here in Meon Valley; and Sue Walker, who has been a tireless advocate on your behalf on this issue. The police were unable to attend on that particular day but have been very willing partners in our endeavours.
We talked through a good deal, but, before I detail the conclusions, I want to be clear that this is the most intractable and difficult issue to deal with that I have encountered in my years as your MP.
At every turn we have hit delays, frustrations and barriers, the net result of which is that residents continue to be upset, distressed and ever more angry about the lack of action.
It is deeply frustrating that little or no progress has been made. I understand completely that this is no great comfort to residents but I do believe we are now getting somewhere.
The problems we face are manifold but primarily we have encountered a difficult combination of:
- Legislation on noise control being very difficult to enforce effectively and sufficiently often;
- The challenge of designing new traffic offences relating to noise that are technically deliverable;
- The practical inability of the police to have a permanent presence on the roads;
- The cost challenges of installing effective deterrents;
- The issue that some of the irritating and offensive noise is not being caused by modified bikes but by the extreme acceleration of perfectly legal bikes.
I have petitioned ministers on the issue and recently met with the new Roads Minister, Jesse Norman, along with representatives from Hampshire Constabulary, the County Council and a senior member of staff from Gwent Constabulary.
This provided a welcome opportunity for the Hampshire representatives to relay their concerns about how to tackle the problem of motorbike noise but also to share best practice; Gwent Constabulary have had notable success in dealing effectively with similar concerns.
As a result of the meeting, the Minister has initiated research into what is being done currently in the UK and in other countries, and has committed the Department to look into what technology exists to more effectively and efficiently identify these road traffic offences. He has promised to update me with these findings in January 2019.
The big step forward though is an emerging understanding that the only way we are likely to deal with this issue in the short term is not, as we have focussed on up to now, finding a technical solution and creating new offences. These, if deliverable at all, will take a long time to design, scope and legislate for.
Instead, what we must focus on is trying to make the routes less attractive to ride and this is what my meeting with the Chairman of C.A.N.S. focussed on.
We have a number of ideas in mind (including the long talked about average speed cameras) but success in delivering them will, I think, only come if we create a broad coalition of interested parties, from C.A.N.S. to the South Downs National Park Authority, local councils, the Police and, of course, the affected community. This should also include leisure groups such as The Ramblers Association, cyclists, horse riding groups and fishing organisations, and all those whose right it is to use and enjoy the surrounding area in peace and without fear. In short, a coalition of those who police and regulate and those with an interest in ensuring that these authorities deliver their promises.
To that end, Rob Humby committed to the County Council facilitating a quarterly meeting of a small steering group, representing the interests of these diverse groups, at which proposals will be put forward. With C.A.N.S. in the chair, the implementation of these ideas will be scrutinised and the agencies involved held to account for their delivery.
Not only will this ensure that progress is made but that plans will be transparent. The community will finally know what is going on and see what is proposed.
Ultimately of course, this is a very long-standing problem and one which is not easily solved. My hope is that a combination of the objectives I have set out in this letter will go a long way to reducing this anti-social behaviour and markedly improving the quality of life for the people of this area.
I do want to reassure you that all of your elected representatives in this area, as well as many officials from agencies and the many volunteers who are involved, remain absolutely focussed on tackling this as a priority.